Can Google solve Android fragmentation?

Whenever I speak to Android developers, it's almost inevitable that the subject of fragmentation enters the conversation. No wonder--with four dominant Android versions (1.5, 1.6., 2.0 and 2.1) currently running wild across the mobile ecosystem, it's becoming increasingly difficult for developers to create applications that offer a consistent, universal experience across different devices. "It's a nightmare. It's Windows Mobile all over again," an exasperated Big in Japan co-founder Alexander Muse told me during a recent interview to discuss the firm's Android Developer Challenge-winning ShopSavvy pricing comparison app. "For example, Samsung doesn't implement the camera in the correct way--they try to make it cooler, and it no longer works the same as other Android phones. We don't even work on some phones." And with still more Android-powered devices on the way, including new smartphones from HTC, Kyocera, Dell and Motorola announced during last week's CTIA Wireless 2010 conference, fragmentation only continues to accelerate.

But Google is reportedly taking steps to intervene. Citing off-the-record sources "whose words carry weight," Engadget reports that over the course of the forthcoming Froyo and Gingerbread updates, Google will begin decoupling some standard applications and components from the Android platform's core and make them downloadable and updatable through Android Market, meaning consumers must no longer wait for manufacturer firmware updates or operator approval when Google or its developer partners revamp their software. In addition, Engadget reports the breakneck pace of Android's evolution is slowing down as the platform matures, translating to fewer updates in the pipeline. Once Google is comfortable with Android's core feature set, it can begin to emphasize a stable, more standardized developer environment, or so the thinking goes.

Google's plans to create a more hospitable Android development environment couldn't have come at a more opportune time--interest in the OS is at an all-time high. According to a recent survey conducted by mobile advertising network AdMob, more than 70 percent of existing iPhone developers said they plan to extend their efforts to Android, compared to 48 percent of Android developers planning iPhone projects. Thirty-five percent of existing Android developers consider their app's release "very successful," with 29 percent deeming it "somewhat successful." Perhaps most notable, 40 percent label themselves "very satisfied" with the Android platform, another 40 percent are "somewhat satisfied" and only 2 percent express dissatisfaction. If that's how the Android community feels now, just wait to see what happens if Google can clean up its fragmentation mess. -Jason